Identifying protected, endangered, and threatened species (PETS) at risk of bycatch

Bycatch work advances as species lists of PETS fish, seabirds, and marine mammals are published for each ICES ecoregion.
Published: 26 April 2022

​​​​​​​​It's not uncommon for untargeted species to be caught and killed by fishing vessels. According to ICES Roadmap for bycatch advice on protected, endangered and threatened species, incidental bycatch is defined as all catches of species not targeted by fisheries operations (incidentally/accidentally caught), including those not taken on board, regardless of later treatment. Unfortunately, this potentially includes more than 200 protected, endangered, and threatened species of seabirds, fish, marine mammals, and marine turtles.

“It is not just literal extinction that is worrying", Simon Northridge of the School of Biology at the University of  St Andrews, Scotland and member of ICES Bycatch of Protected Species (WGBYC) and Marine Mammal Ecology (WGMME) working groups, noted when discussing the challenges of bycatch in 2015, “Bycatch can also lead to the commercial extinction of fish species (the species becomes so rare it is not possible to target it profitably), or to a species becoming absent from a part of its range due to extreme levels of bycatch. In European waters, fishes such as sturgeons and common skates have been affected in these ways, while harbour porpoises have been reduced to extremely low densities in parts of their European range, almost certainly as a result of bycatch".

Bycatch advice roadmap
The ecosystem approach to fisheries management obliges ICES to consider the effects of bycatch on vulnerable species. ICES Roadmap for bycatch advice, first published in 2020, “describes the legislative background, the science needs, and a path for ICES to strengthen its advice on incidental bycatch".

This document has now been updated and republished to include species lists of PETS seabirds, fish, and marine mammals of bycatch relevance for each ICES ecoregion​. These lists represent a major advancement in our work on PETS bycatch ​and will be integral and operational parts of ICES bycatch advice (including our Fisheries Overviews), and contribute toward the roadmap's overarching goal to assess the risk and impact of fleet activity for incidental bycatch.

On the publication of the species lists, Henn Ojaveer, Advisory Committee Vice-Chair, states “This is a crucial achievement that improves the quality of the advice, essentially enabling the inclusion of fish into our PETS bycatch advisory products. Further prioritization of both marine mammal, seabird, and fish species would be needed for the development of population-level assessments to enable the evaluation of bycatch mortality and associated consequences for PETS populations".

Developing the lists

Lists of PETS seabirds and marine mammals had been previously developed at an ICES region-wide level but the assessment of status for all seabirds and marine mammals by ecoregion is a new development and brought information to WGBYC that had not been presented in this manner before. 

Establishing the fish lists had to begin from scratch. WGBYC have helped with a better understanding of the extent of bycatch in terms of rare and endangered fish. However, there was still much that was not understood: for instance, many of these species are so rare or infrequently encountered in sampling schemes that it is difficult to estimate the true outtake in various fisheries—much less 'raise' these estimates to the population scale in the way that ICES does for commercial fish.

ICES Workshop on Fish of Conservation and Bycatch Relevance (WKCOFIBYC) brought together specialists in conservation and biodiversity assessment of fish species, bycatch estimation, and sampling schemes for species of relevance in November 2020. The group developed a list of species of bycatch relevance for each ecoregion, that will be used to prioritize future work within ICES. The fish list contains species which are included in international and national legislations and on relevant red lists, identified by experts as being sensitive to fishing, and not advised upon or listed as data deficient on red lists. The list excludes species for which quantitative or qualitative stock assessments are available.

Along with WGBYC and WKCOFIBYC, the Working Group on Marine Mammal Ecology (WGMME) and  Joint OSPAR/HELCOM/ICES Working Group on Seabirds (JWGBIRD) have been major contributors to this work.

The species lists of bycatch relevance were approved by ICES Advisory Committee. They are living documents and will be subjected to periodic review and update.

Find the updated ICES Roadmap for bycatch advice on protected, endangered and threatened species in our library.​

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The Common stingray (Dasyatis pastinaca) is listed as a fish species of bycatch relevance in the ​Bay of Biscay and Iberian Coast, Greater North Sea, and Celtic Seas ecoregions.

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Identifying protected, endangered, and threatened species (PETS) at risk of bycatch

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